The enduring Irish recession and uncertainty of a stable financial future is not deterring undocumented Irish and their families from moving back to Ireland in the coming months.
Some of the undocumented men and women currently living in New York spoke to the Irish Voice about their big decision to move home, especially in such turbulent times.
Due to the status of those interviewed, alias names will be used in this article.
Ava, a thirty-something emigrant from Co. Donegal, along with her husband and two children, is a few weeks away from packing their lives into a container and moving countries.
Ava came to New York 14 years ago and her husband 15. They met in the Bronx and are now married seven years.
“Living in New York has been the greatest experience ever and life has really been fantastic, but the realities of living life without a green card has really hit home,” shared Ava over a cup of tea.
“We are hitting our heads off a brick wall.”
Ava, who has worked several jobs through the years to make ends meet, feels a life without health insurance and no long-term pension is not creating the stable environment she needs for her family.
Her husband, like hundreds of Irish, is in the construction industry. Although business is good, every day is becoming a “little scarier without the right papers,” says Ava.
Both Ava and her husband’s driver’s licenses are about to expire, and driving illegally is not an option for them.
Ava, who cares for the elderly and young, feels they have finally seen the bigger picture.
“We are getting older and don’t have any security here, so Ireland it is,” she said. “What am I going to do, work here illegally until I’m 80? Moving home is the right decision for our family.”
Aside from being undocumented in the U.S. Ava said missing family is also a part of their decision to move back. “Not being able to see family frequently and missing events has always been difficult,” she added.
Since making the decision to go home Ava has been advised from both sides of the pond that the move is very risky, but it’s a risk they are willing to take.
“I totally understand people (undocumented) wanting to stay here for the long haul but it’s not for us, not now anyway,” she said. “It is hard lately to get work here without papers. A lot of the jobs I’ve come across require a Social Security number which I don’t have.”
So the decision to move back home was made at Christmas. Flights were booked in March, and Ava and her family will be home just in time for her first child to begin school in Ireland in September.
“We know things will be tough in Ireland but we are looking forward to a new chapter in our lives. I’m naturally nervous but I’m going to embrace the change positively,” she says.
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Jason and his partner Leah have been living in the shadows in Yonkers for eight years. Jason, a bartender, and Leah, a hairdresser, have “had enough” of being undocumented and are planning to move back to Ireland before Christmas.
“We’ve been hanging on and hanging on for years in the hope that there would be some sort of immigration reform and nothing has happened,” Jason told the Irish Voice recently. “We have good jobs, a great social life and a fantastic circle of friends, but being illegal isn’t for us anymore.”
Leah is on the same page as her partner. “We both have missed so many family weddings, and even a close family death occurred last year that we were unable to go home for. We sat down a few months ago and decided it was the best decision for us,” said Leah.
Jason worries about the employment situation in Ireland. “I know there are very few jobs over there so that is definitely something we have to accept. We are working very hard at the moment to save as much money to keep us both going for a year without working if it comes to that,” said Jason.
Leah is excited about the decision to move back to Ireland. “I have missed my friends a lot since moving here, and to be honest I feel I’ve overstayed my welcome. I often say to (Jason) that I feel
guilty for living in a country that I’m not legally supposed to be in,” she said. “It will feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders if I’m being honest.”
Is there a possibility between now and Christmas the couple will change their minds?
“No,” said Jason. “We’re committed to the decision and that’s that.” Sarah, who holds a degree in business from the University College Dublin, has been in the U.S. for five years. She held a visa for 18 months but then fell out of status.
“I hate being undocumented and I’m not doing it anymore,” she said affirmatively. “I tried so hard to get a second visa when my first one ran out but it wasn’t possible, and at the time things were getting bad in Ireland so I stayed here and worked in a bar.”
Sarah now works in an office but is fed up of her status. “I’m leaving in five weeks,” she said. “My sister is getting married so I made up my mind a few months ago and I’m very happy with my decision.”
Is she worried about finding a job in Ireland?
“For sure. I’ve a business degree and so do half the people on the dole, but if it comes to it my family own a restaurant and it’s surviving so I’ll pick up a few shifts there to tie me over for a
while,” said Sarah.
In the meantime, Sarah has a couple of going away parties to look forward to and hopes someday to be able to come back and visit “the lifelong friends” she made while living in New York.